The Lighter Side of Transformation

Observed and reported by Lisa Wessan, LICSW

Nashoba Valley Medical Center chooses laughter therapy to celebrate Nurses Week

I know my group has hit the sweet spot when people are laughing and crying, maybe even a little drool is running down their faces, from learning to have an extended, massive laughter session without a stream of funny jokes….learning to “laugh for no reason” is key in this work.

The Nashoba Valley Medical Center, Ayer, MA, invited me to be their keynote speaker in honor of Nurses’ Week. So May 12, 2010 we had a large gathering at the Groton Country Club in order to experience “Therapeutic Applications of Humor and Laughter for Caregivers.”

Everyone starts out serious – because laughter therapy is part of a serious multimodal stress reduction program that aims to lower cortisol levels and blood pressure, increase immunoglobin A to prevent flus and colds, and release all kinds of stress in the muscles and joints, oxygenate the brain and leave everyone feeling refreshed and energized. That, plus much more. What is beautiful is to watch a group of intelligent, noble, dignified people give themselves permission to let their guards down for a few minutes to experiment and have a roaring good time. The psychological benefits are so numerous – increased cohesiveness in the group, open to forgive, enhanced compassion and team building strengthened. I will continue this in a separate article.

Mary Mathieu, the Director of Case Management at Nashoba Valley Medical Center summed up her experience of my keynote: “Lisa Wessan, ‘The MIrth Maven’ was invited to be the speaker for the Nurses’ Day dinner. She presented a program, ‘The Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter for the Healthcare Professional.’ Having been to many Nurses’ Day dinners in my 21 years as an RN, I enjoyed this presentation the most. She began by providing evidence-based research on the physical and psychological benefits of laughter and the second half of the program was lots and lots of laughter…I laughed until I cried….I laughed on the way home…the next day…and thinking of the event still makes me smile. I look forward to attending many more of her events in the future. I very highly recommend her!!!”

In the meantime, it was my honor and privilege to participate in this expansive event. Nashoba Valley Medical Center joins with several other large hospitals and organizations in Massachusetts that are clearly on the vanguard of a growing movement to include laughter therapy and team building with laughter as part of an empowered management strategy. Based on my short time here, it is evident that New England health care facilities seem to trust that laughter therapy will help prevent burn-out, reduce turnover, and keep their professional caregivers high functioning and more productive.

My professional goal: to have a full time certified laughter therapist in every hospital!

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The mirth diet

“It’s been said that laughter is good medicine, but it also may be good exercise, says LiveScience.com. In a series of studies, researchers at Loma Linda University in California found that repeated bouts of “mirthful laughter” offer some of the same benefits—including lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol—as moderate exercise. In their most recent study, researchers found that volunteers who laughed while watching videos experienced changed levels of the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which are known to regulate appetite. Those hormones are also affected by exercise. The findings, says study author Lee Berk, suggest that some sort of “laughter therapy” might be an option for patients who cannot use physical activity to normalize or enhance their appetite.” (THE WEEK May 6, 2010)

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